Thursday, 7 January 2010

Sparks fly as power line approved - Press & Journal

Scottish ministers have finally approved controversial plans to build a line of 600 electricity pylons to carry power through some of the most spectacular landscape in the world.
Energy Minister Jim Mather announced at Holyrood yesterday that permission to replace and upgrade the 137-mile power line from Beauly in Inverness-shire to Denny in Stirlingshire had been granted because it was “vital” to unlock Scotland’s vast onshore and offshore renewable energy potential.
He described the project — which will see the line upgraded from 132kilovolts to 400kV and carried by towers ranging from 137ft to 213ft through the Highlands to central Scotland — as the “most significant and important energy” infrastructure electricity grid project in a generation.
But opponents described the news as a “black day” for Scotland, however. They warned the that decision could cost the SNP dearly at the ballot box because the views of thousands of people had been ignored despite their participation in what was Scotland’s biggest public local inquiry, which lasted 52 months.
Stirling Before Pylons and the John Muir Trust have accused ministers of “washing their hands” of the project by telling developers Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and ScottishPower to come up with environmental impact mitigation measures themselves and report back to ministers.
Stirling Before Pylons health spokeswoman Caroline Paterson said: “The Scottish Government has abdicated its full energy policy to industry. It is going to be led by companies motivated by money and profit.”
Mr Mather insisted that extensive conditions had been imposed to protect the interests of communities and minimise the impact on the environment along the line.
He added that SSE had been asked to come up with visual impact solutions in seven areas – Muthil in Perthshire, Balblair, the Cairngorms National Park, Errochty and Stirling. Measures must be put in place in the Stirling area, at Glenside, near Plean, and at Auchilhanzie House, near Crieff.
Mr Mather said 53 miles of lines that would feed into the new overhead cable would either be removed or placed underground.
Colin Hood, of SSE, said: “This project has rightly been subject to a huge degree of scrutiny, but the need to provide more electricity network capacity for indigenous, renewable sources of energy is overwhelming.
“Our priorities now are to confirm the conditions associated with ministers' consent can be satisfied and to make sure that building the new line and dismantling the old one are done with the minimum possible impact.
“We hope to be in a position to get construction under way this summer and we will implement a programme of meetings and events along the route to inform landowners, local communities and statutory bodies about our construction timetable, when it is agreed.”
Liberal Democrat energy spokesman Liam McArthur described Mr Mather’s performance as confused.
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSPs Jamie McGrigor and Mary Scanlon criticised ministers for not fully exploring all the alternative options. .
Scotland Office minister Ann McKechin welcomed the decision but expressed concern that it took so long.
Scottish Renewables chief executive Niall Stuart said: “This upgrade will unlock a massive increase in renewable electricity in the north of Scotland and is good news for the economy, employment and the environment.”
A spokesman for business organisation CBI Scotland added: “A colossal amount of private-sector investment in energy infrastructure will be required over the next few years if we are to realise ambitions to build a low-carbon economy. While a decision on this project has been a long time coming it is nevertheless a welcome step forward.”
John Muir Trust policy officer Helen McDade said: “It is a black day for Scotland. It is clear the government is washing its hands of various key decision-making areas.”

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